Environment chief defends recycling – amid ‘try harder’ plea

Activists say Town Hall must be 'more ambitious'

Friday, 6th May — By Charlotte Chambers

Edmonton incinerator c2

Jill Ellenby and Ben Griffiths, who have campaigned against the Edmonton incinerator

ISLINGTON’S environment chief has defended the council’s recycling record, as voters heading to the polls warned that it was a key issue.

Councillor Rowena Champion said Islington’s “hands were tied” by the government’s slashing of budgets for local authorities and called on them to make recycling and waste reduction a key national message to “make it easier” on the doorsteps.

She also stood by Islington’s decision to press ahead with funnelling waste for incineration for another 50 years, insisting “I am an environmentalist at heart” but there was “absolutely nothing else that is an option at the moment”.

Cllr Champion added: “Of course we don’t want to be [incinerating] and we will do everything we can to divert [waste] away [from the incinerator] but we’re left with the consequences of a government that isn’t taking net-zero carbon seriously, and we’re at the end of the chain.”

Islington declared a climate emergency in 2019 but has been unable to shift its recycling rate since 2010.

The council spends £2.1million per year on recycling and £5.1m on incineration, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

The council ranks 290 out of 338 local authorities in a recycling league table. Camden and Hackney rank even lower, and all inner London boroughs record around 30 per cent of total waste being recycled.

Islington says it will increase recycling by 10 per cent by 2030 as part of its net-zero pledge, though this is significantly lower than the Mayor of London’s ambition of 65 per cent.

Cllr Rowena Champion

It also plans to roll out food waste recycling on all estates by 2023 and increase awareness about recycling. It is trialling collecting food waste from flats above shops later this year.

Cllr Champion called on people to “be realistic with what would work in Islington”, and said the number of people living above shops and in blocks made Islington – one of the most densely populated boroughs – particularly challenging.

She also said there was an element of the “yuck factor” of food waste recycling and a preoccupation with the cost of living in the wake of the energy crisis that had superseded concerns about recycling.

But Rembrandt Koppelaar of Let’s Talk Rubbish, a survey about waste and recycling carried out across the seven north London boroughs served by the Edmonton incinerator, said the more than 200 people from Islington who filled out the survey feel the council need to be “more ambitious”.

Mr Koppelaar said: “People want the councils to really try harder to make recycling work because at the moment it’s not working.

“For the last 10 years there’s been almost no progress. We’re still stuck in a world where we’re going to burn our waste for decades to come and there’s no plan to move towards an economy which is based on sustainable reuse and waste prevention.”

Let’s Talk Rubbish found that 87 per cent of residents polled were against the Edmonton incinerator while 90 per cent wanted to see recycling more than doubled.

He suggested Islington could make it easier for people to recycle their clothes and plastics by providing a bag or bin for those items.

Ben Griffiths and his wife Jill Ellenby, who live in Avenell Road, Arsenal, have both been active campaigners against the incinerator.

They argued that Islington has been static on recycling for years, in part because there has been an institutional lack of enthusiasm to be innovative and called on it to trial new ideas.

They questioned why it has not been more transparent about decision-making and asked it to keep activists informed about recycling rates and achievements.

Mr Griffiths said: “It’s the same thing we hear all the time. What we’re saying is, if you’re saying you’re trying, what are you doing to try really hard?”

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